Despite CBSE’s push for regional languages, schools prefer English

The CBSE has encouraged teaching in the mother tongue. But most CBSE schools are private and loath to abandon their English-medium tags.

CBSE board schools are not to keen on introducing new mediums in schools (Representational Image: SCERT Bihar)CBSE board schools are not to keen on introducing new mediums in schools (Representational Image: SCERT Bihar)

Atul Krishna | February 21, 2024 | 09:44 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently allowed all schools affiliated to it to teach in the 22 different regional languages listed in the Schedule 8 of the Constitution.

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 as well as the Right to Education (RTE) Act emphasise teaching children in their mother tongue. With this notification, CBSE brings its own policy in line with national law and the NEP. Despite CBSE being a public board, an autonomous body under the ministry of education, the vast majority of its affiliated schools are private. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is designing textbooks in these 22 languages.

However, according to schools, the July 2023 order represents a minor relaxation of the existing language policy. Seven months on, no school is rushing to comply with it.

Offering instruction in multiple languages is taxing on the infrastructure and teacher resources. Apart from the dominant regional language in the particular states, which government schools already teach in, there are very few students from other languages for schools to start teaching in them.

Most importantly, the fact that they teach in English is what makes many private CBSE schools attractive to parents.

CBSE order ‘highly impractical’

The primary reason for schools ignoring the suggestion is that offering even just one regional language as a medium of instruction can be impractical considering the resources required, school managements said.

“Medium of instruction in all vernacular languages will be difficult. In a classroom of 30, there might be students with different native tongues. How will the school accommodate them and teach in their mother tongue? The cost, the availability of teachers and the infrastructure [must be considered]. If we are talking about it as a subject, it is possible to an extent, but offering it as a medium of instruction is highly impractical,” said Shashi Kumar D, general secretary, Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka.

Schools said that they already face the problem of accommodating students who get transferred from different states. Most often, they don’t have teachers who can teach in that language.

“One student who came to our school was from Maharashtra and had studied there in Marathi. In our school, we don’t have a Marathi teacher. We slowly taught him and it took three years for him to reach his grade level. English and Hindi were optional subjects for him,” said Anil Kaushik, president of Progressive Private Schools Association, Haryana.

“For any school, it is impossible to keep teachers for all subjects. Take central government employees, for example. If an officer is transferred from Manipur to Haryana, his child would not be able to continue receiving education in Manipuri as we don’t have teachers who know the language. If we don’t have any students studying in a particular language, why would we keep a teacher for that purpose?” said Kaushik.

CBSE language policy

Most see this notification as a slight relaxation of the “three-language formula”, in place since 1968. It was introduced in the National Education Policy 1968 by the Kothari Commission and has been reiterated in subsequent policies in 1986 and in 2020.

According to the formula, schools can teach any three languages, including the regional language, Hindi and English, and it is up to the state governments to decide on the implementation. Tamil Nadu is the only state in the country to not follow the three-language policy. The state has implemented a two-language formula, with Tamil being one of the compulsory languages.

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Even private schools that follow CBSE, have to follow the state’s education rules and language policies. “For instance, the Karnataka government has said that Kannada should be a first or a second language in all state schools,” said Kumar.

However, the NEP 2020 provides “greater flexibility” to the three-language formula by stating “no language will be imposed on any state” and the decision will be left to state governments as long as at least two of the languages offered are native to India. Yet, rules laid down by states are imposed on the schools.

Parents want English-medium schools

For most parents, the most attractive feature of a private CBSE school, usually, is its medium. They believe English-medium education is crucial to future academic and career opportunities.

“Parents only want English-medium schools. They want that at the highest level. In government schools also there is a huge demand for English as a medium,” said Kumar.

Kaushik further explained: “The idea is, if a student speaks a regional language, like Marathi, we teach in Marathi. That way he will be able to grasp the subjects easily. But if we look at it in the long run, for higher studies, command over foreign languages, such as English, is important.”

Andhra Pradesh, for instance, converted all its government schools, which were predominantly Telugu and Urdu-medium, into English-medium institutions. It was one of the poll promises of chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy and the YSR Congress party. The government even signed an agreement with International Baccalaureate (IB) to implement IB programmes in 4,000 government schools.

Abiding by the CBSE order

The CBSE notification does not mandate instruction in local languages. Rather, it is an order that allows such a decision, should a school take it.

However, schools worry that just having an order in writing will become reason enough to implement it. “Sometimes if it is written, it becomes an obligation,” said Kumar.

To partially abide by the order, some schools are offering more regional languages as optional subjects.

“We have already started giving the option of four regional languages – Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali and Telugu or Tamil, depending on which teachers are available. We are thinking of introducing one northeastern language, probably Manipuri. They get this option from Class 1 and then throughout their school years,” said Sudha Acharya, principal of ITL Public School in Delhi. “It’s not like we are conducting any exams. This is more about appreciating the state’s culture and language. They are mostly taught about state culture.”

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